The Awakening of Ren Crown (Ren Crown #1)

Title: The Awakening of Ren Crown

Author: Anne Zoelle

Series: Ren Crown #1

Ren Crown knew her place: beside her extroverted and popular twin brother, Christian. Until the night he dies violently, leaving her alone with questions no one hears, let alone answers. Then another inexplicable assault, followed by powers she never expected to exist and a world where raising the dead isn’t just a thought experiment but something that’s actually possible. Now Ren has a new goal: getting her brother back. No matter what.

This is a bit jerky, although some of that is definitely because Ren is getting jerked around from one thing to another, and a lot of the worldbuilding that would smooth things out is stuff Ren has no way of knowing. I would have liked a little more worldbuilding details, since Ren was going to some of the engineering classes on the sly, and a little less “getting drunk at a party” common college type scenes.

I do like how balanced Ren is between art and engineering. This isn’t someone who pushes the superiority of one side or the other, or even someone who is good at one but has no aptitude for the other, but is someone who can engage and enjoy both dimensions. And the fact that painting counts as a substance abuse charge was funny. As much as I was curious what she might paint without limiters, it was amusing to see how other people responded to what they see as a heavy abuser.

The other characters were generally good as well, although Christian never really worked for me. He came off initially as someone I disliked, and even though Ren thinks the world of him, I never really bought why he was so good (it wasn’t really necessary to understand her obsession, though). It was interesting to get a character who’s got some kind of magical sex attraction going and Ren not only isn’t even interested, but engages him purely in a business associate relationship. I hope that doesn’t get twisted in the future to create a weird love triangle. It was also very interesting to see Ren recognize her crush is nothing but a fantasy, and admit the real guy is not someone she wants (although the cynical part of me says they’ll probably end up as a couple anyway).

Overall, this is a mostly solid start to a series I wouldn’t mind continuing. Hopefully the next book will open Ren’s legal opportunities a bit more so she can dig into things on a normal level. I rate this book Recommended.

Rakefang (Galleries of Stone #3)

Title: Rakefang

Author: C. J. Milbrandt

Series: Galleries of Stone #3

Tupper has long known what he wants in a wife. And when a chance visit to town brings a new girl to his attention, he doesn’t need long to decide she’s the one. But courtship is a special kind of challenge for Tupper, who has never been especially outgoing or outstanding. And someone has dark designs on Morven . . .

This is almost two stories. The first half is primarily Tupper courting Chelle, and the second circles back around to a plot thread left hanging in the first book and finishes it out nicely.

Chelle is an interesting match for Tupper. True to form, he enjoys those things about her that make her different–and therefore outcast–and isn’t bothered at all by her deafness. But for her, Tupper’s surprises aren’t as big a problem as the fact that no one in his home village really knows him anymore, so she’s not sure what kind of person to expect. And she never expected anyone to be interested in marrying HER, so she’s also getting used to the idea of being in love.

I really don’t want to spoil the surprise of the second half, but I was very pleased that dangling plot thread not only got resolved, but was thoroughly dealt with.

If Freydolf is the head of Morven, Tupper is its heart. This is a new chapter in Morven’s recovery, with marriage and babies and people intending to make a village out of its formerly empty halls. Interestingly, although this could work perfectly well as a trilogy, it also leaves a good sense of things still being uncovered, and there’s plenty of room for more story in the future. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Harrow (Galleries of Stone #2)

Title: Harrow

Author: C. J. Milbrandt

Series: Galleries of Stone #2

Every fall and spring, Aurelius Harrow comes to the mountain of Morven where his brother-in-law Freydolf is Keeper. He brings food and supplies, trades uncut stone for Freydolf’s masterpieces, and provides some much-needed company. But this year is different. This year, Aurelius is going to be staying for a while.

This book continues a few years after Meadowsweet, with Tupper a little more grown up and a lot more comfortable in his role. Tupper continues to open up Morven in surprising ways, as additional people are coming to the nearly-empty halls that he and Freydolf occupy. It’s beautiful to see how the story keeps extending the sense of family—first with Aurelius, then with other Meadowsweets, who not only dare to flout the typical fear of Pred but work on making their new friends more welcome in the rest of the village.

And Ulrica, Freydolf’s sister, finally makes an appearance. She’s thoroughly Pred, though in a slightly different way than Aurelius (I love how Tupper marks Aurelius as the prettiest of the lot . . . he’s so vain about clothing).

Tupper nodded tentatively, but he wasn’t so sure. What kind of person showed affection with sharp criticism, thinly-veiled insults, and death threats? Upon serious consideration, Tupper realized that the answer should have been obvious. A sister.

And in between all the marriage and babies and family happenings, Tupper’s also starting to think about his own future, and the person he might want to share it with. It’s funny to watch him approaching his future love life much the same way he approaches anything else: methodical, thoughtful, and unusual. Because Tupper’s short list of requirements is less about how she looks and more about whether or not she can put up with living statues and fearsome Pred without flinching.

It’s also fun to see that although Tupper may be the most exceptional Meadowsweet, in his own way, he’s hardly the only one. His family did a great deal to make him who he is, so once they’re committed to the Preds as family, they’re in all the way. And his family has their own secrets . . .

Overall, I loved seeing the world expanding, and the magic expanding too. This is a great followup. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Meadowsweet (Galleries of Stone #1)

Title: Meadowsweet

Author: C. J. Milbrandt

Series: Galleries of Stone #1

Freydolf is one of twelve Keepers in the world. Guardian of a sacred mountain, master sculptor, and yet utterly alone. Other races fear the Pred, and it makes something as simple as hiring a servant a challenge. But Tupper is different. Freydolf is soon surprised to find HOW different . . .

I tend to love stories like this, about a lonely and isolated individual gradually finding friendship. And this one is particularly good. Tupper is rather young, but more than that, he’s not very bright in a traditional sense, and has a tendency to be blunt because he’ll honestly answer questions. As Freydolf and his brother-in-law Aurelius discover, there’s far more to him than meets the eye.

Aurelius is also an interesting character. He’s much more typical of Pred, heavily armed and dangerous, and he has a biting sense of humor to match. He’s also the one with the biggest vocabulary, which leads to several funny conversations with Tupper, who can’t parse his big words and doesn’t understand why Aurelius even wants to use them when smaller words can say basically the same thing.

“Which parts made sense?” Aurelius patiently prompted.

With a slight uptilt of his small chin, Tupper gravely replied, “Master Freydolf wants you to be quiet.”

I also liked the magic in this book. Living statues provides an interesting assortment of creatures to populate the mountain, and it’s fun to see the various bits of personality many of them possess. Especially Graven, who does so like to tease.

Overall this was an excellent read, with charming characters and a lot of heart. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Knights of the End (Knights of the End #1)

Title: Knights of the End

Author: J. D. Cowan

Series: Knights of the End #1

Teddy MacIsaac dreams of heroes in a world where heroic ideals have succumbed to world-weary pessimism. Undaunted, he follows his dreams and a voice calling inside until he discovers a golden coin with mysterious powers. It grants him what he always wanted: the chance to be a hero. But no hero stands unopposed, and the general evil that’s haunted his world is about to get a lot more personal . . .

I really liked this. I found it based on a blog post by its author, and the comment that it had been written for his (her?) 13-year-old self immediately grabbed my interest, as the summary promised an actual light-versus-dark conflict that’s becoming increasingly hard to find.

And we get lots of awesome. Transforming superhero powers, secret identities, magical powers strong enough to change the world, and a colorful cast of friends and enemies. I particularly liked what happened with Rock, and how Teddy’s relationship with him changes over the course of the book. Bits of this read like an old comic book or cartoon drawn in greater detail. And I mean that as a compliment—the bombastic fights, the witty exchanges, the soaring imagination, the love of what it actually is to be a hero.

There are a few minor typos and errors that detracted a bit, but overall this was a solid book. I do hope the series continues, and continues to explore more of what it actually takes to be a hero who holds on to right no matter the cost (along with increasing the superhero cool moves and powers). Teddy takes a few knocks this time around, but certain events seem to be setting him up for a much deeper conflict between who he is and who he wants to be. I rate this book Recommended.

Pursuing Prissie (Pomeroy Family Legacy #1)

Title: Pursuing Prissie

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Pomeroy Family Legacy #1

Ten years have passed since Prissie began seeing angels. Many of her old friends have moved on, but she’s still in West Edinton. And after a stint in college, Ransom is back and ready to stay. His feelings for Prissie have only grown . . . but she’s content to see him as a friend. And Prissie is distracted by a demon who has taken a particular interest in her.

I would recommend reading the Threshold books before this one, as it will provide a lot of context to the story and the characters. This takes place ten years later, and it’s a lot of fun to see how everyone’s grown up. I do miss the exuberance of the younger Ransom, as his uncertainties (as well as his goal) make him more restrained than he was previously. But Prissie mellowed out a lot, and as usual surrounds herself with a diverse crowd. I think I was most surprised with Margary, her former best friend, and seeing not only how far their paths have diverged, but how Prissie is mature enough to recognize the real needs in her former friend’s life and tries to meet them.

The angelic side is as fun as ever. Tameas and Ethan are surprised to find their charges swapped for the time being, although some of the angels eventually guess the reason. I wonder if Ethan ever figured out his main qualification was looking like a teenager. . . but he does get a level of encouragement from Prissie that Zeke doesn’t provide, simply because Prissie can see him.

I think my favorite line in the whole book was this exchange between Tamaes and Jedrick.

Tamaes sagged to a seat beside Jedrick, who smiled sympathetically. “How fares your new charge?”
“I used to laugh at the stories Ethan shared.”

I also think it’s funny how much Beau and Prissie rely on Marcus, which drives Ransom crazy because he can’t help interpreting this from a human perspective and feel left out, not understanding that they tend to turn to Marcus for issues more demonic in nature. And Marcus is always in full agreement with them about “we’re just friends.” I wonder, given Prissie’s comment in Ransom’s new house at the end, if she’s told him a bit more of her strange life. Not telling her brothers is common sense, but Ransom has a better reason to know by the end.

Overall, I liked having this followup to the main story to see how everything came out. Recommended.

Threshold short story roundup

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Threshold

Due to the shorter length of most of these, I’m lumping all the reviews together. Several of these are currently free to read on Amazon and/or the author’s website. I tried to put them in roughly chronological order, but several of them have overlapping time periods.

Tried and True

Taweel is a Guardian who lost his charge to the plague that devastated Egypt, killing all the firstborn. Grief casts him away from his fellow Guardians, away from any purpose or healing. But the Weavers who shelter him slowly become friends, a yahavim has taken a personal interest, and two young Guardians may break through his sorrow . . .

I dislike the 100-word-chapter format, as every fragment feels far too short, and I would rather have fewer chapters but more length so that the longer scenes don’t keep getting interrupted by breaks. That said, the story itself is good. Guardians prepare and train and devote themselves to a charge, so when Taweel loses his, he’s unable to see a future for himself. He doesn’t INTEND to Fall, but he can’t forget.

This one is also available to read for free on the author’s website (mostly; if you want the epilogue then get the paid version). Recommended.

Angels on Guard

Tamaes has taken his mentor’s lessons to heart, except for the most important one: allowing himself to care for the little girl under his watchcare. But his concern for his own faithfulness could lead to the very outcome he’s trying to prevent . . .

This is a good story, but won’t make much sense without the context of Tried and True. Tameas’s reluctance is entirely based on Adin’s taunts to him about loving his charge too much (and Adin’s Fall happening in part because his charge died). So Tameas is determined not to repeat the mistake.

This is also the story behind Prissie’s lifelong fear of heights, and snippets of it were in the main Threshold series. I liked this fuller treatment, and getting to see exactly what was going on behind the scenes. (Although I would have also loved to let it go a little further to see Tames awkwardly working his way into the role he should’ve had from the beginning. But I can also reread the later interactions he has with her in the books for something similar.) Recommended, but be sure to read Tried and True (and probably the Threshold main novels) first.

Rough and Tumble

Ethan is a Guardian in training, but his Sending comes well before he feels ready for it. Still, he goes eagerly to his charge: Zeke Pomeroy.

This is another 100-word-chapter one, and again, I’m not too fond of the format, but the story is amusing. Zeke Pomeroy was born wild, and for all that Ethan loves him, he really struggles to keep up. Although this is another story about Guardians, Ethan has a much different perspective on the role than Tameas (I also thought it was cute how Jude’s Guardian has a lot in common with Jude). Recommended.

Angels All Around

Milo is excited to begin his time as a Graft, an angel who lives a human life among humans (at least, when he isn’t called on to resume angelic duties). But the Messenger’s plans fall apart as soon as he walks out the front door. . .

This is another one that tells an event from the main Threshold novels from the perspective of the angels instead of Prissie. In this case, it’s the incident where Milo and Prissie first met in the gazebo in the middle of town. It’s funny to see Milo’s take on the whole thing, because there’s a battle going on all around that he has to pretend he can’t see, and Prissie isn’t at all what he expected. This story is also free. Recommended.

Angel on High

Among the stars, a new angel comes into being. Koji is full of questions, eager to learn and understand. But not all new knowledge is pleasant . . .

This is my favorite of the shorter works (so far, at least). Not only does this story touch on the very beginnings of an angel’s life, the angel in question is Koji, who can’t help trying to figure everything out. Some of his questions go deep, and some are just funny.

The end of this overlaps with the beginning of The Blue Door, retelling his original encounter with Prissie from his point of view. Prissie was annoyed to find a possible trespasser, but Koji is panicking because he never expected to end up interacting with humans, and has no idea what he should do.

I wish this had been novel-length, because it felt like it ended way too fast, but what’s here is sweet and hilarious. Highly Recommended.

Angels in Harmony

This is basically a two-part short story. The first half covers how Baird and Kester first met, and the second half takes place shortly before Christmas and covers a holiday challenge between the two Worshipers (and actually fills in a missing piece from the Threshold novels, mainly, what Prissie ended up giving all her angelic friends for Christmas).

Like all the shorter pieces, this was a good look into the more personal side of some of the angels. Baird’s mostly enthusiastic in the novels, but here we see another side of him: someone whose mood can swing down almost as far as it goes up (Kester, in contrast, is extremely steady). Between Ephron’s capture and some of the hazards of life on earth, Baird can’t always maintain a smile. Kester, in contrast, is longing for a chance to be a mentor himself, but he takes his current apprenticeship with good grace, and aims to support Baird as best he can.

The second half can be a bit jerky due to the quick transitions, but all in all this is still a really fun piece. Currently this one is also free. Recommended.